Robot Animals

MIT’s New Robot Cheetah Is a Better Cheetah Than Real Cheetahs

Smarter, Better, Faster, Stronger
Just try to beat this robo-cheetah on the treadmill.

Just try to beat this robo-cheetah on the treadmill.

For years, robots have been rendering humans’ jobs obsolete. Now, they’re about to do the same thing to cheetahs.

In the bowels of MIT’s engineering department, researchers have ushered a new creature into being: a 70-lb. robotic cheetah with comparable endurance to an actual cheetah. Though the robo-cheetah runs at around 13mph (less than a quarter of the speed of a real cheetah), it’s designed to “outpace its animal counterparts in running efficiency,” MIT News reported in March. According to researchers, robo-cheetah can run at 5mph for an hour and a half, without wasting very much energy (if only we could do that on the treadmill).

The robo-cheetah strutted its stuff at last month’s International Conference on Robotics and Automation. Some noted that Boston Dynamics’ version of the Robot Cheetah (apparently this is a trend?) can run over twice as quickly, but viewers were still impressed by the MIT cheetah’s seemingly unparalleled efficiency.

Other attempted “running machines,” the MIT researchers said, lose energy through heat, friction, and foot (paw?)-to-ground impact. Robo-cheetah, on the other hand, has special energy-saving motors and gears mounted on its joints, as well as a motor that re-purposes the energy the robo-cheetah expels through ground impact, to name a few of its features.

What’s the point, you might ask, of designing a robot cheetah (besides ultimate coolness, obviously)?

Sangbae Kim, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Assistant Professor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, said that super-efficient running machines could aid in emergency response following a disaster. “In order to send a robot to find people or perform emergency tasks, like in the Fukushima disaster, you want it to be autonomous,” Mr. Kim said, “If it could run for more than two hours and search a large field, that would be useful.”

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